The Moroccan authorities say they retrieved the bodies of eight migrants after they drowned in an attempt to reach the Canary Islands.
The bodies of eight migrants were retrieved by the Moroccan authorities on July 25, report various news agencies, including Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP) and the Moroccan State news agency MAP.
The migrants are believed to have drowned after their boat grounded off the coast of southern Morocco, in the province of Tarfaya. Authorities believe that the group was headed to the Spanish Canary Islands, the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, just over 100 kilometers off the coast of Morocco.
The bodies of the eight were taken to the morgue of a local hospital in Laâyoune, the main town in Western Sahara, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.
18 migrants stopped for questioning
A further 18 migrants, reported to be sub-Saharan African origin, were stopped by the authorities after raids in the area near the sinking of the ship. It wasn’t immediately clear if the 18 had also been on board the boat. However, AFP reported that they had survived the shipwreck and had been "detained for questioning."
According to Le Figaro, "an investigation has been opened to determine who is behind this operation of clandestine immigration," the paper was quoting the same unnamed Moroccan sources from Tarfaya.
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Morocco a key transit point
As the conflict and reports of mistreatment of migrants in Libya worsen, it seems more and more migrants are turning to its neighbors, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as the new transit countries towards Europe.
Some migrants attempt to make it into the Spanish enclaves on the African continent, Melilla and Ceuta, directly from Moroccan territory, others try and cross the Mediterranean from the northern coast of Morocco, towards Spain.
But as patrols along these borders have intensified, many migrants are turning to the western coast of Morocco and Western Sahara in the hope of boarding boats across the Atlantic towards the Spanish Canary Islands.
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Deaths in 2022
In June, between 23 and 37 migrants are thought to have died in the attempt to climb the border fence into Melilla. The Spanish charity Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) estimated that almost 1,000 migrants have died, or been reported missing at sea, on various routes towards Spain in just the first six months of 2022.
The UN migration agency's Missing Migrants Project puts the figures at around 312 in the first six months of 2022 on the Canary Islands route, and around 18 deaths for various reasons recorded around the coasts of northern Africa in the same time period.
However, IOM also states that the actual numbers of deaths may be much higher since many people do not tell friends or relatives when they are about to embark on a crossing.
Moreover, many of the deaths also occur before migrants even reach the coas. For instance, in the Sahara desert in Niger and Mali, several groups of migrants have been abandoned recently by smugglers and subsequently found dead after being exposed to temperatures which can rise above 40 degrees in the day, with little or not water or food to keep them going.
With AFP, Reuters